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Michael Schumacher’s best race in Formula 1

3 years ago

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Andrew Frankel | Ti co-founder


27 February 2021

Every new year, the scavengers of the tabloid media return to peck what they can off some old and familiar bones. What makes this more unedifying than usual is they are the story of a man who suffered a catastrophic brain injury seven years ago but who is still alive and yesterday celebrated (if you’re reading this on Monday and if that’s even the right word) his 52nd birthday. But that’s all the excuse the vultures need to go digging around Michael Schumacher’s life again, despite the expressed wishes of his family that his and their right to privacy be respected.

So I thought we’d celebrate this man’s incredible career another way, by recalling my favourite of his drives. Sir Stirling Moss described Michael’s performance in the 1996 Spanish Grand Prix thus: ‘That was not a race. That was a demonstration of brilliance. The man is in a class of his own. There is no one in the world anywhere near him. I do not think there has ever been a driver who is so far clear of the field in terms of ability. It was one of the most fantastic demonstrations of skill I have ever seen, up there with Senna and Fangio.’ And he knew what he was talking about.

By the time Michael Schumacher had joined Ferrari for the start of the 1996 season he was a double world champion, titles achieved by means both fair and foul. By contrast no Ferrari driver had won the title since 1979. Together they would reconstruct the Scuderia and deliver its most successful winning streak in its history. But that was all for later.

To understand the enormity of what Schumacher achieved that day back in 1996, we need first to understand where Ferrari lay relative to the best opposition of the time, which was nowhere. Yes, he did qualify in third place behind the Williams pairing of Hill and Villeneuve, but despite what he called ‘a perfect lap’ he was still a full second behind Damon thanks to his truculent, aerodynamically inexact Ferrari F310. Team mate Eddie Irvine’s sixth place, achieved after extensive testing at the track, was a far more accurate estimation of the car’s real pace.

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